Sunday, August 02, 2015

Odds 'n' Ends



Impatience part 2

I'm waiting not-so-very-patiently and the tomatoes are looking beautiful.  SOME people (ahem, sis in New Jersey) have been getting buckets of tomatoes for weeks now, and I've been consumed with jealousy, but mine are finally getting there.  A week of temperatures in the upper 90s really helps.

We also had the very first green bean harvest today. We could have waited a day or so and had a couple more, but we couldn't wait any longer.  They were delicious.

First green bean harvest

The second two of Emma's zinnias opened yesterday, a very pretty lavender pink.

Red and pink zinnias

And my marigolds are so pretty.

I just love marigolds

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Testing the canned chicken, and more preserving

I popped open jars of chicken and black beans that I canned last week to make some burritos for dinner today, to test how these products came out.  We had a head-to-head taste test of Emma's favorite commercially canned black beans and my home canned version.

putting the home-canned chicken and beans to the test

I'm happy to say that both the chicken and black beans were a total success!

The beans look exactly like commercially canned beans.  They're fully rehydrated and tender, but not mushy, and have great flavor. In our blind taste test, Emma couldn't tell the difference between the two types of beans, except that she did say the home canned version was a little more creamy. I thought the home version tasted better, with a slightly softer texture and without the very slight metallic taste.

The chicken wasn't mushy at all, which was my main concern.  It's firm and has good flavor, with none of the metallic, weird taste that commercially canned chicken (in metal cans) has.  I don't like commercially canned chicken at all, but this home-canned version is quite good and tastes like chicken.  It's somewhat "brittle" and flaked apart easily, so it's not the same as fresh-cooked.  But it will definitely work great for soup, burritos, chicken salad, etc., which is exactly what I was hoping.

Best of all, I know that there's no extra salt or anything in the jars- just chicken and beans.  I will definitely be canning both these again.  Yay!

My bean and chicken burrito was delicious, seasoned with ground coriander seeds (from the garden!), cumin, turmeric, and smidge of cayenne, topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt, fresh parsley, and a tiny garden tomato.  Yum.  I was going to take a picture, but I forgot... it was too yummy.  Sorry.

Here's my harvest from today- the first two yellow peppers, some parsley, and a tiny tomato. All gone now.  Pretty yummy.

today's harvest

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen quicker, hooray!  Not too much longer before I have a nice little pile of Amish Paste tomatoes!

Now we're getting there.

In other canning news, I put up some pickled cabbage and carrot slaw yesterday, from this recipe (halved because I only had one four-pound cabbage). With home-grown onion and orange peppers!

Pickled cabbage and carrot slaw

It's not sauerkraut, since it isn't fermented, but just a straight pickle.  It's sweet/sour and crunchy, and I flavored mine with celery seed and caraway seed, since I didn't have the mustard seed the recipe called for.  I had the little bit that was left over in a pastrami and swiss sandwich for lunch yesterday, and it was really, really good.

I also did up some cucumber dill pickles a couple days ago.  I had five smallish cucumbers, and since there was only enough for a single jar I did a refrigerator pickle.  The jar was originally full, but we've been munching on them.  Yum!

Refrigerator dill pickles

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I finally got my act together and entered some of my work in the county fair this year, for the first time since I have lived here.

Ribbons for my hardanger!

The edelweiss hardanger doily got Judges' Choice! Yay!

The first year of fair-going after I moved here from Friday Harbor was somewhat of a shock.  In Friday Harbor, there is an extremely active textile guild and the fair was the highlight of the year.  The Fiber Arts (knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, felting/fulling, rug hooking, tatting, etc.) and Textile Arts (sewing, quilting, smocking, embroidery, etc.) entries take up an entire barn, which is one of the biggest display areas of the fair.

Here...not so much.  The entire crochet, embroidery, and knitting display this year was a counter about six feet long and two feet wide.  The quilts are in a different building.  There aren't even weaving or spinning categories at all.

Still, it's fun to have stuff on display and always exciting to win a ribbon!

Powerful mint

As I sat down at my desk this morning with a cup of fresh mint tea, I looked down at my cup and inhaled that fresh mintiness. There were only a few sprigs, the trimmings of the chocolate mint that were escaping the pot, but it was so, so fragrant.

Strong mint

I thought to myself, with an unconscious choice of phrasing but in all seriousness and with deep satisfaction, "The Force is strong with this one."

I am such a nerd.

Monday, July 27, 2015


The first nasturtium flower opened on Sunday!  Nasturtiums always look so cheerful.  These are growing really slowly, and most are nowhere near blooming.  Ah well, I know to plant them earlier next year.

First nasturtium

The Boston Pickling cucumbers are also starting to bloom.  Just one male flower so far, but there are lots more buds coming and I can see at least a couple that are female flowers.

The first Boston Pickling cucumber flower

The pattypan squash, on the other hand, is doing exactly squat.  Oh, it's blooming like crazy, but only sending out male flowers!  I know the squash family tends to start out with only male flowers for a while when they start blooming, but it's been weeks!  I want some squash!  I'm going to try stuffed sauteed flowers with dinner tomorrow unless a female bud shows up.

The pattypan squash is blooming like crazy, but only male flowers...

Emma's Black Magic petunia is doing really well. I bought this under duress, because she wanted it sooo badly, but it's really grown on me.  I like the contrast it brings to the half barrel with the marigolds and bright red penstemon.

Black Magic petunias

The green beans are still pretty small and spindly, but they are starting to flower and produce itty bitty beans!

First green beans!

The Tomato Annex is doing great.

The Tomato Annex

I don't really appreciate the day to day differences until I go back and look at previous pictures, like this one, taken just two weeks ago.  The vines are about two feet taller now, and look at the tomatoes!


We've only harvested five tomatoes so far.  It's been really cool here for the past couple weeks (daytime highs in the 70s and 80s, and a low of 39 is forecast for tonight! Yikes!), but it's supposed to warm up into the 90s again later this week.  The cool weather has slowed down the tomato ripening, but I haven't given up hope yet. 

The hummingbirds continue to swarm my back yard.  I've lost count of how many adults there are, plus the youngsters have started showing up.  There are probably upwards of 15-20 in the general yard area.  This is a female rufous hummingbird, blurry because the picture is heavily zoomed and cropped.  They're so much fun to watch.


As an aside, that's a Hummzinger feeder, and it's the absolute best hummingbird feeder I've ever had.  It doesn't drip and attract ants like the bottle-types do, the bees and wasps can't get to the nectar AT ALL so they have stopped coming around and chasing off the hummers, and it's so easy to clean and fill.

The new feeders were required because I went out to the deck three Saturdays ago and it looked like half the population of a beehive was at my two former feeders- the kind with an inverted bottle and the red and yellow flower ports for the hummers to sip from.  There were probably 500 bees flying around and on the feeders, plus a healthy group of wasps.  The hummers kept trying to come in to feed, but the bees chased them off.  I had to give the bees a (gentle) hose shower to chase them off so I could bring the feeders inside.  I'm all for helping the bees, but this was out of hand.  I want to be able to use the deck too.

I ordered the Hummzinger feeders that morning, received them the following Monday, and the hummers were buzzing around them within 5 minutes after I put them up.  I got two originally, then ordered two more the next day to try and calm down some of the infighting between the hummers.  With four feeders up, it dilutes some of the competition.  Even the rufous hummers will let someone else drink at the same time.  No bees, no wasps, no ants, lots of hummers.  Perfect.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Convenience food

I did up a batch of bean and veggie soup yesterday, with a couple of smoked ham hocks simmered in the chicken broth for flavor.

Canned bean soup

The broth was 8 cups of homemade, frozen chicken stock that needed to be used up since it was almost a year old, plus 8 cups of water.  This had the added benefit of freeing up some space in my freezer!

The great northern white beans were soaked for a couple hours, drained, then simmered with the ham hocks and three bay leaves for half an hour. The goal was to at least partially rehydrate the beans so the jars would keep some free liquid.  I chopped up the small amount of meat off the ham hocks and divided it between the jars, along with the beans and some raw carrots, celery, onion (home grown!), parsley (home grown!), and garlic. 

The soup was pressure canned for 90 minutes, as required for beans and meat in quart jars.  In the future, I think I might can the veggies separately, since processing them that long took away some color and it's likely that they're quite soft.  I'll decide after we try this batch.

Emma and I like soup a lot, especially when it's chilly out, but we don't like commercially canned soup- it's just too salty for us.  Making soup from dehydrated ingredients is good, but does take a little time, especially if we want meat in it.  I'm hoping that having this on hand will be an easy way to have a quick and healthy soup dinner when we're tired and hungry after work/school/swim practice this fall.  Just open a jar, dump it in a pot, heat, and serve.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Despite having its own giant playground planter, the chocolate mint is still trying to make a break for it.

The chocolate mint trying to make a break for it.